Coming to America

Coming to America

Exchange program brings 12 Israeli high schoolers to homes near you

Israeli Air Force cadets from Nahariya visit the Frisch School in Paramus as part of last year’s STEM Exchange Program.
Israeli Air Force cadets from Nahariya visit the Frisch School in Paramus as part of last year’s STEM Exchange Program.

They’re here.

Well, they’re expected to be here. At press time we don’t know that they actually arrived.

They are a dozen high school students from Nahariya. During their week here — scheduled to begin on Thursday, March 15 — they will visit Jewish and non-Jewish schools, New Jersey malls and Manhattan tourist attractions, and — perhaps most importantly — make friends.

They’re half of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Scott Pazer STEM Exchange Program. The other half will be 18 students from the Bergen Academies, who will go to Israel in May.

This is the second year for the exchange program, but the first year that it bears Scott Pazer’s name. It was just endowed by the family of Scott Pazer, a college student who died suddenly 33 years ago.

“We are beyond thrilled to be receiving the Pazers’ grant,” Franci Steinberg said. Ms. Steinberg chairs the federation’s Partnership 2Gether committee, which oversees the federation’s cooperation with its Israeli sister city, Nahariya.

Ms. Steinberg lives in Tenafly, as does Scott’s sister, Dina Bassen, who also is involved with the federation. Ms. Bassen told her mother, Shelly Pazer, who was Scott’s mother, about the STEM exchange program.

“She knew for quite a while that I was looking for the right venue to memorialize her brother,” Ms. Pazer said. “She said, ‘Mom, maybe the federation would be a wonderful way to make this donation.’ I said ‘Now is the time.’ Because it was such an emotional thing for me, I would often procrastinate ridiculously.

“I know the federation does wonderful things. I thought it would be a perfect way to memorialize and honor Scott.”

Once the idea was put forth, Dina’s sister, Lisa Pazer, also was on board.

Last year, Ms. Steinberg hosted some of the Nahariya high school students who came on the exchange program.

“They were adorable,” she said. “We had them in our homes for a week. We loved having them.

“They’re very worldly. They bring a background that we don’t have in America. They have different ideas and customs. They’re different — but they’re the same.”

Ms. Steinberg isn’t hosting any students this year. “We want to give the opportunity to other families,” she said.

Her advice for this year’s hosts: “Enjoy their company. Sit down to dinner and listen to them and learn about their culture. Enjoy being with them. Learn what they do at home.”

Ms. Steinberg’s daughter, Simone, is in high school, a year behind last year’s visitors, and she was struck by the different life paths girls in the two countries face. “They go into the army before college,” she said. “It’s their way of life. They’re focused on that. They lead a little bit of a difficult life, they know it, and they’re proud of it.

“They loved the shopping. Every group that comes wants to go to an American mall, which is so funny. They love how everything is so accessible — the shopping, the clothes, the food.

“They love American kids. Once they meet the kids, they start exchanging Facebook names and all the messaging and they start talking to each other. Before you know it they’re friends forever. My daughter has been talking with these kids since they’ve been back in Israel. That’s what we’re looking for.

“The cultural exchange and friendship — that will be forever.”

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